WASHINGTON - The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump said Wednesday that it will block the entry of foreign travelers from many European countries for 30 days to tackle the spread of the new coronavirus, while advising its citizens to reconsider traveling abroad.
The latest announcement came as Trump faces increasing pressure to take action to deal with the virus scare that has led to the cancellation of a series of large events in the country, including the remainder of the season in the National Basketball Association.
The Trump administration has already banned the entry of foreign nationals who have visited mainland China or Iran within the past 14 days. The latest announcement will add 26 European countries, such as Italy, France and Spain, to the list.
"This is the most aggressive and comprehensive effort to confront a foreign virus in modern history," Trump said in a televised speech, adding that he will "be suspending all travel from Europe to the United States for the next 30 days" starting Friday.
Europe now has the largest number of confirmed infection cases outside China, according to data by the World Health Organization, which officially announced on Wednesday that it is now considering the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic.
Those exempted from the restrictions, such as U.S. citizens, will be directed to limited airports where screening can take place, the White House said. The travel restrictions will not apply to Britain.
The State Department, meanwhile, recommended U.S. citizens reconsider travel abroad due to the global impact of COVID-19, the official name of the pneumonia-like disease caused by the virus.
While noting that the current situation is "not a financial crisis" and that the U.S. economy is strong, Trump said the Treasury Department will defer tax payments without interest or penalties for certain individuals and businesses affected by the virus.
"This action will provide more than $200 billion of additional liquidity to the economy," he said. Low-interest loans will also be offered to help small businesses overcome economic disruptions.
Trump is eager to keep the world's largest economy in good shape ahead of the November presidential election as he campaigns for his second term.
Amid a surge in infection cases in the United States, which has reportedly exceeded 1,000, the NBA said Wednesday that it is suspending games until further notice after Rudy Gobert, a French player from the Utah Jazz franchise, tested positive for the virus.
A major cherry blossom festival held in the U.S. capital each spring will also be scaled down this year due to the spread of the novel coronavirus, the organizer said.
The National Cherry Blossom Festival attracts around 1.5 million people annually from the United States and abroad to Washington where they walk among the blossoms lining the Potomac River and attend other Japan-related events. It is scheduled from March 20 to April 12 this year.
"The health and safety of the performers, guests, volunteers and festival staff is our priority," Diana Mayhew, the head of the organization in charge of the event, said in a press release, adding that some events slated through March 31 will be postponed or canceled.